A/N: Hi everyone!!! How I've missed you all. Thanks to everyone who read, reviewed, passed along, and showed so much support for Midnight Sun Continued. You all make my heart happy. I got many requests for more Edward chapters, and most of them were from Eclipse...so I decided it was time to begin a new trip into our favorite vampire's mind. I've found myself on bed rest for the last few weeks of my pregnancy, so for now, I have quite a bit of time on my hands. I don't know how far I'll make it into this before our little girl makes her appearance, but I promise, though there may be a gap in time somewhere in the not too distant future, I won't abandon this story. It'll be my "grown up time." :)
As always, Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight – and my heart. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing from all of you! (((vampire hugs)))
Ultimatum – EPOV
She isn't ready for this, she doesn't understand what she's giving up. And I'm running out of time.
Like most evenings lately, I was pacing around the house, thinking about everything I didn't want to think about while I waited for my Charlie approved visiting hours to start. Aggravated, I tried to focus on Bella and what she would be doing right now, in hopes that it would momentarily ease my anxiety. I pictured her cooking for Charlie, discussing their day, taking care of her homework, worrying about Jacob...
Great. I manage one moment of reprieve from fearing for her mortality and where do my thoughts go? Werewolves. My mind was once again entirely incapable of just letting it go. They weren't even on speaking terms, he'd made no attempt to contact or see her. Why couldn't we all just forget about the dog and get back the the way things were?
It had actually amazed me how, at least for the most part, in the weeks since Italy, our lives had returned to normal. Well, normal for us. Aside from Bella's preoccupation with wanting to make sure Jacob was okay, she seemed more or less the same as before I'd left. Before I'd made the worst mistake of my very long life.
If I was being honest with myself, I still hadn't fully accepted Bella's forgiveness, though she gave it willingly and completely. I knew she downplayed how much I'd hurt her when I left, assuring me on an almost daily basis that it didn't matter because we were together now. She trusted me – with her heart, with her very life – yet, I couldn't make myself believe her in this one thing.
Perhaps it was because I was endlessly reminded of how terrible it had really been for her. While Bella's ever silent mind was able to shield me from the reality of what I did, I was constantly assaulted from all other sides. The week I'd returned to school, every one of Bella's friend's thoughts were acidic, and very directly pointed at me. There were varying degrees of hatred, depending on the person's relationship to Bella, but one thing was constant among each of them.
I had caused Bella more pain than any human being should have to suffer.
And in truth, they didn't know the half of it. While the entire population of Forks seemed to have witnessed her breakdown, only myself and my family knew what she had gone through to rescue me. I thought I knew what fear was, but nothing could have prepared me for the sight of my Bella, fragile and breakable, standing before the most powerful and deadly of all vampires. I had never known true terror, until I listened to the minds of the Volturi contemplate ways to destroy the person I loved more than anything else in this world.
The night Bella and I had returned from Italy was both the best and worst of my existence. I was grateful beyond anything I'd ever felt that the stars had finally aligned for us, and we had been miraculously released from the Volturi's hold and allowed to return home. Of course, the only reason Bella's overly extensive vampire knowledge had been forgiven was Alice's assurance that Bella would soon be one of us. And Bella's enthusiasm and determination for this outcome was precisely the thing that now had me pacing around the living room.
"You need to stop trying to make her decisions for her."
Carlisle's voice brought me abruptly from my thoughts. I looked up at him skeptically and shook my head. I really wasn't up for another argument.
Carlisle had been more than a little persistent since Bella's little voting escapade the night we'd returned. It was hard to shake the feeling of betrayal as every member of my family, with the exception of Rosalie, had sat around a table and agreed with Bella's decision to end her human life. And you know things are bad when the only one not against you is Rose.
"If the time comes and Bella still wants me to change her, you know I'm going to keep my word," he said solemnly.
"I know," I said through gritted teeth.
"I don't want this to be a point of animosity between us, Edward."
"How can it not be? You know I don't agree with her choice, and yet you'll still go through with it."
"Yes, I will. Because it's her choice." He sighed, then added much more softly, "Though you know that isn't my only reason."
My eyes shut tight as I tried desperately to block out the path his thoughts had taken him on. I knew what he meant, why did he have to paint the pictures so clearly for me?
Carlisle had realized long ago, long before Italy, that I would not live with Bella. The night of the vote, after Bella had gone home, he'd tried to appease my anger at him by explaining that while he loved Bella and truly desired for her to be part of our family, the main reason he'd agreed to change her was because of me.
He told me that the agony he'd felt waiting to find out whether or not I'd been destroyed by the Volturi was something he wasn't willing to go through again. Whether consciously or not, any time Bella's mortality was brought up, his mind shuffled through all the ways her life could end, and he knew if something were to happen, I would finish what I had foolishly started once before. Only this time, Bella wouldn't be there to save me.
"I have to go," I said abruptly, eager to have Bella at my side again. She always had a way of pushing my fears aside, and focusing on the present – on us.
"Are you coming back tonight?" he asked.
Every night, after Charlie kicked me out, I had a brief amount of time on my hands before joining Bella again by way of her window. Some nights I came home, others I simply waited outside for her. On occasion, I went to her room while she finished the rest of her evening tasks. I couldn't help it. Sometimes, I just needed to see the grin on her face when she found me stretched out on her bed, waiting for her.
"I'm not sure. Depends on how much help she needs with the college applications." And by help, I meant stubborn refusal that ended in me filling out most of them for her.
"Don't put too much pressure on her," Carlisle urged. "If you relax and let her start to enjoy the idea of going to college, she might decide she wants to try it for awhile."
I smiled, glad that at the very least, he wasn't quite as anxious as Bella was for her transformation. He also knew that at this point, I wasn't really holding out hope of changing her mind. All I could really hope for was more time.
When I arrived at Bella's house, I stopped at the door to listen. I probably should have felt guilty for all the times I'd spent listening to her and Charlie's evening talks, but it was still so hard for me not being able to hear her mind, I found myself taking every opportunity to learn her better. Tonight, they were talking about college. Charlie was proud and excited that she'd received her first acceptance, but less than thrilled by how far away it was. Although I'd never given any indication that I was planning to leave the state for college, a part of him assumed the two of us were planning to run away together, and he was blaming me for her eagerness to leave Forks behind. If only I could tell him that in this instance, I was entirely on his side. I wanted Bella to stay close to Charlie. It was the tie I knew she was having the hardest time thinking about breaking, and I'd be lying to myself if I didn't admit I was planning on using that to buy myself more time.
"I was just...wondering what...Edward's plans are for next year?" Charlie asked nervously. Bella stuttered and I recognized my cue.
I knocked with a small smirk on my face, already anticipating her relieved expression as I heard her call, "Coming!"
"Go away," Charlie muttered and I stifled a laugh.
Bella opened the door and smiled her most radiant smile at me. If my heart was still beating, it would have been pounding as I watched her eyes travel across my face and eventually lock gazes with mine. I heard her breath start and stop, and I quirked an eyebrow at the strange expression that had momentarily taken hold of her. Whatever it was, it passed as quickly as it had come, and she laced her soft, delicate fingers with mine, making me feel like I was coming home.
"Hey," she said softly, smiling at me lazily.
I lifted our hands up, twined together, with the intention of kissing her hand, but was supremely aware of Charlie's glare in my general direction. Instead, I let my hand graze against her cheek, relishing in the warmth her skin always provided me.
"How was your afternoon?" I asked.
"For me, as well." Every moment I spent apart from her felt like it dragged on forever.
Unable to resist bringing her closer, I lifted our hands up to my nose, lightly brushing against her skin as her glorious scent filled my every sense. I closed my eyes and drank in her perfection. I could feel her pulse through her wrist, and as I let out a slow sigh, her heart started pounding faster. The rush of adrenaline that coursed through her veins made her smell so much more potent, but my control didn't waver for one second.
I don't think she truly understood how different everything was now. I knew she could tell I was more relaxed being closer to her – we'd certainly spent enough nights curled up together to prove that. But I doubted she comprehended the magnitude of what thinking I'd lost her had done to me. Everything inside me ached, felt real, physical pain, at the thought of anything ever hurting her again. Especially me. While I knew I still needed to be careful around her, the urge to protect her was more instinctual now than even my most basic need. Her blood would always sing to me, but I knew that the magnificent sound of her beating heart would always keep me from answering the call.
Charlie's frenzied and disapproving thoughts interrupted my moment of reverie, and I opened my eyes just in time to see him glowering at me.
"Good evening, Charlie," I said politely, determined not to let my manners slip, even in the face of near hatred.
He grumbled, not moving from his protective stance. It was impossible to be angry with Charlie. It was clear he loved Bella dearly, and his resistance to me was merely a product of how deeply I'd hurt her. I could never blame him for doing everything in his power to make sure she never felt that kind of pain again.
"I brought another set of applications," I told Bella, holding up the hand that wasn't clutching hers. She groaned as she noticed the quite large roll of stamps around my finger, and I knew she was hoping we'd worn out our options. I'd been making her apply to anywhere and everywhere I thought might make her happy. There had to be something out there exciting enough to make her want at least a taste of the college experience. I also personally blamed myself and my absence for making her miss most of the deadlines, so I didn't feel the least bit guilty using the Cullen name – not to mention our monetary resources – to make sure Bella had an endless number of options to choose from.
"There are still a few open deadlines," I assured her, then added with a grin, "And a few places willing to make exceptions."
She cringed at my words and I felt her grip on my hand increase. I laughed, though I did hope she wouldn't be too mad at me for my persistence.
"Shall we?" I asked, leading her to the kitchen with a disgruntled Charlie behind us.
I arranged the applications by order of relevance, and likelihood of eliciting a response other than an eye roll from Bella. As she cleared the table, I noticed her grab her very worn copy of Wuthering Heights. I looked at her skeptically, wondering how she could read it so many times. For someone who supposedly adored love stories, I simply couldn't understand her fascination with what I could only consider a story of hate. What joy could she possibly get from a story whose characters were so cruel?
"Speaking of college applications, Edward," Charlie said, stopping me from making a comment I probably would have regretted about one of Bella's favorite books. "Bella and I were just talking about next year. Have you decided where you're going to school?"
Never had Charlie's mind been clearer than in that moment. He wanted me far, far away, in some miserable climate he could feel confident Bella wouldn't be willing to live in. Of course, he had no way of knowing that Bella's plans centered around bad weather and isolation from civilization.
"Not yet," I answered, distracting myself from that line of thinking. "I've received a few acceptance letters, but I'm still weighing my options."
"Where have you been accepted?"
"Syracuse...Harvard...Dartmouth...and I just got accepted to the University of Alaska Southeast today," I added, winking at Bella and making her chuckle.
"Harvard? Dartmouth?" Charlie asked, openly gaping. "Well that's pretty...that's something. Yeah, but the University of Alaska...you wouldn't really consider that when you could go Ivy League. I mean, your father would want you to..."
"Carlisle's always fine with whatever I choose to do," I said calmly. Besides, I didn't have a cap and gown from University of Alaska yet. It might be time to expand the collection again.
I ignored Charlie's irritated grumbling, as Bella's face broke into a huge smile.
"Guess what, Edward?"
"I just got my acceptance into the University of Alaska!"
"Congratulations! What a coincidence."
We really were enjoying this too much. I almost felt a little guilty as Charlie mumbled, "Fine. I'm going to go watch the game, Bella. Nine-thirty."
"Er, Dad?" she asked cautiously. "Remember the very recent discussion about my freedom...?"
My eyes widened a bit. That part of the conversation must have happened before I'd arrived. Was Charlie finally over the worst of his brooding?
"Right," he sighed. "Okay, ten-thirty. You still have a curfew on school nights."
"Bella's no longer grounded?" I asked, excited by the possibility of spending time with her somewhere other than her house. Plus, my family really missed her. Alice was the only one who ever got to see her anymore, and even that was only because of the effect she seemed to have on Charlie. She swore it wasn't intentional, but I could hear her annoyingly smug thoughts when she was allowed to stay long past Bella's normal visiting hours.
"Conditionally," Charlie grumbled. "What's it to you?"
"It's just good to know. Alice has been itching for a shopping partner, and I'm sure Bella would love to see some city lights."
I smiled at Bella, thinking of all the places I could take her to celebrate her newly restored freedom. She'd seen nothing but the school and the four walls of her house for so long, she might actually let me get away with taking her for an extravagant night on the town. Unfortunately, my thoughts were stopped in their tracks.
"No!" Charlie yelled, and we both turned to him, wide eyed.
"Dad! What's the problem?" Bella asked anxiously as I listened to her heart race.
"I don't want you going to Seattle right now."
"I told you about that story in the paper – there's some kind of gang on a killing spree in Seattle and I want you to steer clear, okay?"
Gang activity. Right. Humans were always quick to place some kind of blanket of blame on gangs or serial killers when they didn't understand what was really going on. Whatever sells the papers. I guess in a way, we should be thankful they had no problem fabricating excuses for the atrocities that were occurring. If anyone found out the truth, we'd have a whole different set of problems to deal with.
"Dad," Bella breathed, obviously embarrassed by his overprotective outburst, "there's a better chance that I'll get struck by lightning than that the one day I'm in Seattle – "
"No, that's fine, Charlie," I said, quick to appease his worries. I needed him to understand I was as concerned with Bella's safety as he was. And in truth, there was no way I would take Bella anywhere near Seattle, though it had nothing to do with gang activity. "I didn't mean Seattle. I was thinking Portland, actually. I wouldn't have Bella in Seattle, either. Of course not."
I quickly glanced down at the latest newspaper article, wondering how bad it would get before someone intervened. The thought that these things were being allowed to continue appalled me. What did the Volturi exist for if not to step in when they were needed? And they were most definitely needed.
"Fine," I heard Charlie grumble as he left the room, but my thoughts were elsewhere. Things had gotten even worse than I'd realized.
"What – " Bella started to ask, but I knew Charlie's attention wasn't entirely fixed on the game yet.
"Hold on," I said, passing her an application. "I think you can recycle your essays for this one. Same questions." She sighed, but took the sheet reluctantly.
It was hard to believe as I gazed out her window, the reality of what was happening in Seattle. At first, Carlisle had assumed it was just a single vampire, or perhaps a small coven, passing through the city and simply being less cautious than usual. But then the numbers had gone up. Very rarely did nomads stay in one place for long – too many deaths in one area led to suspicions. Then, when the headlines started appearing and the murders continued, we knew we were dealing with something out of the ordinary.
I wasn't sure how long I'd been silent, but Bella suddenly made a sound of disapproval and pushed the application across the table to me.
"Be serious, Edward. Dartmouth?"
I gently set the papers in front of her again, unwilling to be swayed by her self doubts. If Dartmouth appealed to her, I could assure her acceptance.
"I think you'd like New Hampshire. There's a full complement of night courses for me, and the forests are very conveniently located for the avid hiker. Plentiful wildlife," I told her with a grin. After all this time, I was no longer shocked by her casual acceptance of my way of life, and I was generally left with amusement. She continued to stare at me, unwavering, so I added, "I'll let you pay me back, if that makes you happy. If you want, I can charge you interest."
"Like I could even get in without some enormous bribe," she scoffed. "Or was that part of the loan? The new Cullen wing of the library? Ugh. Why are we having this discussion again?"
I knew what the next sentence was, though she couldn't speak it out loud for fear of Charlie overhearing. My hands instinctively clenched into fists as determination blazed in her eyes.
"Will you just fill out the application, please, Bella? It won't hurt you to apply."
"You know what? I don't think I will," she said stubbornly, starting to gather the papers. I quickly snatched them from her, and tucked them safely away. I was prepared for this. Nothing, not even Bella's own resistance, was going to stop her from having choices when the time came.
"What are you doing?" she asked, irritated.
"I sign your name better than you do yourself. You've already written the essays." I smiled, unrepentant, and Bella's frustrated voice dropped to a whisper.
"You're going way overboard with this, you know. I really don't need to apply anywhere else. I've been accepted in Alaska. I can almost afford the first semester's tuition. It's as good an alibi as any. There's no need to throw away a bunch of money, no matter whose it is."
I felt a sharp, agonizing pain as her words sunk in. Though this had been the plan all along, hearing her say it aloud made it that much more real. This was all nothing more than a cover story for her. She didn't care how many schools she was accepted into, where they were or what they could offer her. As long as they provided her with a reasonable excuse to move away, she could disappear, and finally get what she thought she wanted most.
"Bella – " I started to plead, but we both knew where that argument led.
"Don't start. I agree that I need to go through the motions for Charlie's sake, but we both know I'm not going to be in any condition to go to school next fall. To be anywhere near people."
"I thought the timing was still undecided," I hedged, holding onto my last bit of hope. I needed more time. She needed more time. "You might enjoy a semester or two of college. There are a lot of human experiences you've never had."
"I'll get to those afterward."
"They won't be human experiences afterward. You don't get a second chance at humanity, Bella."
Though I'd never admitted it out loud, there was a huge part of me that blamed myself for her more than slightly skewed idea of what vampire life entailed. She saw me and my family leading a, more or less, normal life. Carlisle worked, Alice shopped, we went to school. We all spent a significant amount of time among humans. We'd had decades to practice curbing our thirst, and appearing normal was something we did because it was expected of us. It was a necessary choice we made when we decided we didn't want to live as the nomads did. We wanted a life, or at least something resembling a life. Bella didn't truly know the struggle we'd all faced in the beginning, or the struggles we continued to face on a daily basis.
I'd always tried to shield Bella from the more gruesome aspects of our existence. Though I'd given her a vague idea, I hadn't gone into many details about my rebellious years and the murders I was responsible for. If it weren't for Carlisle, I might still be living that way. I'd never allowed her to see us hunt, so while she was able to joke about our dining habits, I wasn't entirely convinced she had a clear picture of what she would be facing.
"You've got to be reasonable about the timing, Edward," Bella said, breaking me from my thoughts. "It's just too dangerous to mess around with."
"There's no danger yet," I said, hating to hear her talk about her transformation like it was the only way to keep her safe. My family and I would keep her safe. I would not allow her to be scared into this decision.
She stared in me, disbelief apparent on her face. It's true, I wasn't arguing that her life had been in danger repeatedly. I cursed myself every day for having allowed any of it to happen. I watched her face contort as she likely recalled all she'd been through since I entered her life. I could see the fear in her eyes, and though I couldn't hear her thoughts, I had a very clear picture of what her mind was putting her through. I knew, because, as much as I tried to fight them, I had those same thoughts. She was imagining all the things that could happen to her, from freak accidents, to more vampire attacks, so simple old age.
"Bella," I said softly, trying to both reassure her and calm my own worries. "There's no hurry. I won't let anyone hurt you. You can take all the time you need."
"I want to hurry," she said quickly, trying to shake all the concern off her face. She smiled a very forced smile. "I want to be a monster, too."
Fury suddenly took hold of me, though I could never find it in myself to be angry with her. It was my fault she didn't understand the truth of what we were. I'd fought so hard to protect her, to help her not be afraid, but I knew I would hate myself forever if I allowed her to go through with her plans without fully understanding what she would become.
"You have no idea what you're saying," I growled, dropping the newspaper in front of her and pointing to the headline.
DEATH TOLL ON THE RISE, POLICE FEAR GANG ACTIVITY
"What does that have to do with anything?" she asked, even now not comprehending what I was trying to tell her.
"Monsters are not a joke, Bella," I said firmly, locking eyes with her before her gaze traveled back to the paper. Comprehension flickered, and her eyes once again met mine.
"A...a vampire is doing this?" she asked, panic evident in her shaky whisper. Though I hated to frighten her, I knew what needed to be said. She had to know that what she'd observed of me and my family, was not an accurate depiction of our world. There were horrors beyond even what she'd witnessed with the nomads and the Volturi.
"You'd be surprised, Bella, at how often my kind are the source behind the horrors in your human news. It's easy to recognize, when you know what to look for. The information here indicates a newborn vampire is loose in Seattle. Bloodthirsty, wild, out of control. The way we all were."
I let my words sink in as she looked down at the paper, new understanding in her eyes. She had to wonder – would she be like that? Would she be responsible for the deaths of innocents?
"We've been monitoring the situation for a few weeks. All the signs are there – the unlikely disappearances, always in the night, the poorly disposed-of corpses, the lack of other evidence...Yes, someone brand-new. And no one seems to be taking responsibility for the neophyte..."
I realized Bella's breathing had turned shallow and her heart was racing, and instantly I regretted having spoken so bluntly. I knew it was necessary, but I couldn't shut out the pain I felt at having upset her. I breathed deeply and tried to take at least some of the edge out of my voice.
"Well, it's not our problem. We wouldn't even pay attention to the situation if it wasn't going on so close to home. Like I said, this happens all the time. The existence of monsters results in monstrous consequences."
There was a long silence while Bella's eyes flashed dismally across the page. I wished she would say something, so I could know what effect my words had had on her. Eventually, her breathing returned to normal, though when she spoke, it was still that shaky whisper from before.
"It won't be the same for me. You won't let me be like that. We'll live in Antarctica."
Though entirely inappropriate to laugh, I couldn't help myself. She'd inadvertently conjured a rather entertaining visual for me, and I realized she was right. I would go to positively absurd lengths to make sure she didn't end up like that savage in Seattle.
"Penguins. Lovely," I muttered, and was happy to hear Bella laugh again, even if it was an uneasy laugh.
"Alaska, then, as planned. Only somewhere much more remote than Juneau – somewhere with grizzlies galore."
"Better," I said, glad the tension had eased. "There are polar bears, too. Very fierce. And the wolves get quite large."
Suddenly, Bella was gaping at me, the color of her cheeks reddening, but not from her usual blush.
"What's wrong?" I asked, but the moment the words had left my mouth, I knew what I'd done. The sick irony was not lost on me. All I'd wanted for weeks was to forget about Jacob, let my subconscious believe he no longer existed. For once, I'd finally succeeded, and it turns out it was just long enough for me to upset Bella.
"Oh," I said, hoping she would just want to move on quickly. "Never mind the wolves, then, if the idea is offensive to you."
"He was my best friend, Edward," she said softly, though there was a definite edge to her voice. "Of course the idea offends me."
"Please forgive my thoughtlessness. I shouldn't have suggested that."
"Don't worry about it."
I watched her eyes turn slightly glassy, and I ached to know I'd hurt her again. She was hiding from me, too, I knew that. I could see that a part of her wanted to be able to talk about it with me, but she was worried I wouldn't want to hear. Which I didn't. But that didn't mean I wouldn't listen, if it would help her heal some of the pain.
I reached out to touch her face, lifting her chin up gently so she could see the sincerity in my eyes. I felt her relax under my touch, though her expression was still agonized.
"Sorry," I repeated. "Really."
"I know. I know it's not the same thing. I shouldn't have reacted that way. It's just that...well, I was already thinking about Jacob before you came over."
She paused, probably worried about offending me. I tried to keep the ire out of my eyes as my thoughts drifted to less than pleasant thoughts about Jacob. I could feel the frustration building, so I returned my focus to Bella. I knew she thought about him often. And yes, it upset me, but I still wanted her to open up.
"Charlie says Jake is having a hard time," she continued, even more quietly than before. "He's hurting right now, and...it's my fault."
"You've done nothing wrong, Bella."
I felt my posture relax infinitesimally. It was easier to think that Bella's concern for Jacob was a product the irrational guilt she often placed on herself. Anything was better than thinking there were unresolved feelings for him under the surface, feelings I couldn't fault her for but that slowly ate away at me. I knew what Jacob had been to her during my absence, and while I was grateful for whatever ability he had to help heal her, I wanted to believe his part in our story was over.
"I need to make it better, Edward. I owe him that. And it's one of Charlie's conditions, anyway – "
I felt my body tense and my fists clench. If only Charlie knew what he was sending Bella into. Not that a vampire would be much of an improvement over a werewolf if he knew the truth. Still, it didn't seem fair that Charlie was pushing Bella into Jacob's arms while he loathed my very existence.
"You know it's out of the question for you to be around a werewolf unprotected, Bella. And it would break the treaty if any of us cross over onto their land. Do you want us to start a war?"
"Of course not!"
"Then there's really no point in discussing the matter further." I tried to fill my voice with a sense of finality, but I knew Bella better than that. The subject was far from over. The most I could hope for at this point was to delay it until we'd both had time to calm down.
Desperate to be talking about something, anything, else, I glanced behind her at the book she'd set aside earlier.
"I'm glad Charlie has decided to let you out – you're sadly in need of a visit to the bookstore. I can't believe you're reading Wuthering Heights again. Don't you know it by heart yet?"
"Not all of us have photographic memories," she snapped, still upset. What I wouldn't have given for Charlie to magically disappear into his room, so I could sweep Bella upstairs and make everything right again. She always seemed so much more forgiving when she was in my arms. Reluctantly, I settled for discussing her book. Maybe she would finally be able to explain what she found so enjoyable about it.
"Photographic memory or not, I don't understand why you like it. The characters are ghastly people who ruin each others' lives. I don't know how Heathcliff and Cathy ended up being ranked with couples like Romeo and Juliet or Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. It isn't a love story, it's a hate story."
"You have some serious issues with the classics," she said bitterly.
"Perhaps it's because I'm not impressed by antiquity," I said with a smirk. When she didn't respond, I started to wonder if discussing the book had been a bad choice. Maybe I'd actually offended her and made everything worse. I hoped she didn't think I was trying to pick a fight, or turn her against one of her favorite literary couples. I just genuinely needed to understand how such a dark story could have captured her heart so completely.
"Honestly, though, why do you read it over and over?" I asked, eyes pleading as I reached out to touch her face.
"I'm not sure," she breathed, her expression softening at my sudden interest. "I think it's something about the inevitability. How nothing can keep them apart – not her selfishness, or his evil, or even death, the in the end..."
And somehow, I started to understand. Though it might never sit on my shelf among my favorites, I could begin to see what had intrigued Bella. I myself understood something of inevitability, though before Bella, it had only manifested itself in my mind as the unchangeable life I'd been doomed to live in. Then, miraculously, she'd changed everything. All the things I'd lived through and experiences I'd had seemed to have been working together to bring me to her. By all accounts, I should have left this Earth long ago. I shouldn't be here to love her. Yet here I sat, against all odds, with my reason for being at my side. I certainly didn't deserve it – I was as vile a being as Heathcliff.
I wished I could be better for her.
"I still think it would be a better story if either of them had one redeeming quality," I added with a smile, trying to push away my feelings of unworthiness. I'd promised myself to stay away from conversations involving my not deserving her. Though I would always know it's true, it seemed to upset her to hear me speak it aloud.
"I think that may be the point," she continued. "Their love is their only redeeming quality."
As Bella was mine.
"I hope you have better sense than that – to fall in love with someone so...malignant."
"It's a bit late for me to worry about who I fall in love with," she assured me. "But even without the warning, I seem to have managed fairly well."
I laughed under my breath. Of course I didn't agree, but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been hoping to hear those exact words.
"I'm glad you think so," I said with a grin.
"Well, I hope you're smart enough to stay away from someone so selfish. Catherine is really the source of all the trouble, not Heathcliff."
"I'll be on my guard."
The atmosphere had grown lighter and I began tracing her soft cheeks with my thumb. It felt so natural, having her face gently resting in my hands. She leaned into my touch with a sigh, closing her eyes for a moment before her expression shifted once again.
"I need to see Jacob," she said firmly, and I shut my eyes to momentarily escape her stare.
"It's truly not dangerous at all. I used to spend all day in La Push with the whole lot of them, and nothing ever happened."
She'd never gone into the specifics of her time with the wolves, and I'd honestly been happy not knowing exactly how deep into their world she'd let herself fall. But something in her voice told me she'd seen at least a glimpse of what I'd been warning her about. Her heart beat steadily faster as I allowed whatever memory had taken hold of her to unfold completely. Her eyes widened and I nodded in understanding. She hadn't been hurt, but there had been a moment of danger.
"Werewolves are unstable," I said, my voice even but firm. "Sometimes, the people near them get hurt. Sometimes, they get killed."
I watched as her expression shifted again, and it was a battle not to ask what she'd witnessed. I didn't want to think of her having ever been in peril, especially when I knew it was my fault she'd been put in that position. My leaving had forced her to seek refuge in a place that could only offer her more danger.
"You don't know them," she finally said, her voice barely a whisper.
"I know them better than you think, Bella. I was here the last time."
"The last time?"
"We started crossing paths with the wolves about seventy years ago...We had just settled near Hoquiam. That was before Alice and Jasper were with us. We outnumbered them, but that wouldn't have stopped it from turning into a fight if not for Carlisle. He managed to convince Ephraim Black that coexisting was possible, and eventually we made the truce."
I paused for a moment, thinking back to the courage Carlisle had shown. He knew it would be difficult to convince them that our family was different, but his desire for peace among our kinds was so strong, Ephraim couldn't in good conscience refuse us.
So many decades had passed since the days of the wolves, we were certain that whatever danger had brought them about in the first place was long gone, and our adherence to the treaty had shown them our trustworthiness. We'd always assumed there had to be someone there to actively continue the line, so when Ephraim was gone and no new wolves emerged, we were convinced their time had ended.
"We thought the line had died out with Ephraim. That the genetic quirk which allowed the transmutation had been lost..." I whispered, lost in thought.
I looked up at Bella, wondering how it was even possible we were having this conversation. How had the wolves resurfaced? And why?
"Your bad luck seems to get more potent every day. Do you realize that your insatiable pull for all things deadly was strong enough to recover a pack of mutant canines from extinction? If we could bottle your luck, we'd have a weapon of mass destruction on our hands."
I was mostly kidding, though a part of me wondered if I was onto something. If it was a desire to protect that caused the wolves to resurface, then I couldn't imagine a stronger pull than desire to protect Bella. She may not have been the initial cause, but if she was in danger for a single moment, even I couldn't fault Jacob for protecting her by any means necessary. I never thought I'd find myself grateful for the emergence of a werewolf, but he did save her life, and I knew for that, I would forever be in his debt.
"But I didn't bring them back," Bella said, the fierceness in her voice startling me. Her tone was strained, almost accusing. "Don't you know?"
"My bad luck had nothing to do with it. The werewolves came back because the vampires did. Jacob told me that your family being here set things in motion. I thought you would already know..."
My feelings of gratitude toward Jacob were quickly replaced with anger as I realized he had crossed yet another line. How dare he speak of things he knows nothing about? He wasn't there in the beginning, and there's only so much hearing the stories can teach someone. Our bond was strong as long as the rules were followed. Today, as it had always been, the treaty was firmly in place. None of my family had given the Quileutes any reason to doubt us. We'd been living in Forks for quite some time without any appearance of the wolves, and I resented his assumption that we were the cause of their return.
"Is that what they think?" I asked, still bewildered. Perhaps the presence of the nomads and their careless disregard for human life, but not us...
"Edward, look at the facts. Seventy years ago, you came here, and the werewolves showed up. You come back now, and the werewolves show up again. Do you think that's a coincidence?"
I still wasn't convinced – we'd done nothing to provoke them.. Still, I knew Carlisle, always the voice of reason, would want to hear about it.
"Carlisle will be interested in that theory," I said as calmly as I could manage.
"Theory," she repeated, obviously still irritated with me.
I didn't know much about the process, nor had I ever been particularly interested, but the Black's theory did make me wonder how long the gene would take to manifest itself. Could it really be that things had been set in motion when my family arrived, but we didn't see the effects until much later? The one thing I still couldn't reconcile, however, is why they turned up at the precise moment we left. If we truly were the cause, wouldn't our leaving have stopped them from completing the transmutation? Or was it already too late by that point?
"Interesting, but not exactly relevant," I muttered, mostly to myself. Then, turning to Bella – who, as it turns out, was just as good at distracting me as I was at distracting her – I told her bluntly, "The situation remains the same."
Bella watched me for a moment, and I could almost feel the wheels in her head turning. She thought I was overreacting, and she was desperate to try to make me see reason. Slowly, she stood up and walked over to me, my arms immediately opening and beckoning her closer. I hated it when she and I didn't see eye to eye, and hated even more when we let it get us both worked up.
As she sat herself down in my lap and curled up into my embrace, I knew that both of us were tired of going around in circles. We didn't want to argue anymore, but were both still trying to make the other understand our line of thinking.
"Please just listen for a minute," she pleaded, looking up at me from under her lashes. "This is so much more important than some whim to drop in on an old friend. Jacob is in pain. I can't not try to help him – I can't give up on him now, when he needs me. Just because he's not human all the time...Well, he was there for me when I was...not so human myself. You don't know what it was like..."
I felt every inch of my body tense. Bella so rarely spoke of those months I was absent. She knew what it did to me. However, she could never know the full extent of it. She didn't realize that every time she spoke the words, my mind flashed to all the images I'd seen through the eyes of others. Her teachers would recall the dead expression she'd worn for so many months. Her friends would remember the way she barely spoke. It was the one time I was grateful I couldn't hear Charlie as clear as the rest. I couldn't imagine what I would see if I was granted full access to his mind.
"If Jacob hadn't helped me..." she continued, "I'm not sure what you would have come home to. I owe him better than this, Edward."
My eyes snapped shut as I tried to block out the images that were assaulting me. I shuddered to think of what I would see if I were to come face to face with Jacob. No doubt, he had seen her at her worst.
"I'll never forgive myself for leaving you," I said, my voice strained in anguish. "Not if I live a hundred thousand years."
In the midst of my misery, I was graciously given the gentle reprieve of Bella's touch. I didn't deserve it. Her fingers traced my cheek and I sighed into her warmth, my eyes opening and locking with her gaze.
"You were just trying to do the right thing," she said kindly. "And I'm sure it would have worked with anyone less mental than me. Besides, you're here now. That's the part that matters."
She'd said the words so often, yet I still couldn't believe them.
"If I'd never left, you wouldn't feel the need to go risk your life to comfort a dog."
She seemed taken aback for a moment, and I felt instantly guilty for having once again said something to offend her. I tried to soften my tone, but the severity of the situation would not allow it to come out as carefully as I wanted.
"I don't know how to phrase this properly. It's going to sound cruel, I suppose. But I've come too close to losing you in the past. I know what it feels like to think I have. I am not going to tolerate anything dangerous."
"You have to trust me on this. I'll be fine."
No! my mind was screaming at me. This wasn't about not trusting her. She didn't know what she was walking into. I can't leave this up to chance. Please don't go where I can't follow. I can't know you're okay unless I'm with you.
"Please, Bella," I begged, unable to form the rest of the words, and trying to block out the voice telling me my pleading wouldn't do any good.
"Please what?" she asked, exasperated.
"Please, for me. Please make a conscious effort to keep yourself safe. I'll do everything I can, but I would appreciate a little help."
"I'll work on it," she muttered, and it pained me that she seemed to be ignoring my desperation. Didn't she understand by now she means everything to me?
"Do you really have any idea how important you are to me? Any concept at all of how much I love you?" I pulled her close, as tightly as I could without hurting her, and rested my chin on her head, breathing her in like it was the last breath I would ever take. When she kissed my neck, the warmth radiated through my entire body, and it both soothed me and made me ache. I needed her – safe, forever...
"I know how much I love you," she said softly, her breath washing over me and creating another cascade of warmth.
"You compare one small three to the entire forest."
"Impossible." Though her voice was still doubtful, I could feel her heart beat a little faster, and she seemed to nuzzle closer to me. I would never stop trying to convince her that she was my world.
With a quick kiss on her head, I repeated the words I knew wouldn't get us any closer to a solution.
"I'm not going along with that. I have to see Jacob."
"Then I'll have to stop you."
"We'll see about that. He's still my friend."
There we sat, at yet another impasse. My beautiful, stubborn girl – drawn to danger at every turn. Best friends with a werewolf, and in love with a vampire. Though I'd never condone it, or speak the words out loud, I was starting to wonder if maybe she was right. Immortality was the only way to keep her safe.